Sunday slant: Seven wonders of camp

This year’s training camp has planted questions all around. We wonder about seven pivotal topics to the Vikings’ success this season.

It’s hardly the seven wonders of the world, despite the passion of Vikings fans for everything purple in the middle of the summer. This isn’t a list proclaiming the impressive physique of any player or trying to turn a new head coach into a mythic and indestructible god.

No, this list is actually things I still wonder after a week at training camp, and before that attending every offseason practice open to the media. If these are answered in a positive fashion over the next four months, the Vikings should be in the thick of a playoff chase. If not, well, mark them down for a third losing season in the last four years.

WONDER 1: When will Teddy be ready?

It always seems to come down to the quarterback, and that’s the case again this year. From Tarvaris Jackson to Christian Ponder and now Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings have been working with first- and second-round quarterbacks and trying to develop them. The results, at least before this season, left plenty to be desired.

Jackson became known more for his jump passes than sending his receivers jumping into the stands after a touchdown toss. Ponder continues to frustrate fans and, it appears, coaches as he panics in the pocket, tucks the pigskins and runs for daylight after quickly losing the intention to throw.

So the mantle now is handed to Bridgewater. We raised the question in our season preview issue, “Teddy, you ready?” After watching a couple dozen practices over the last several months with him, the question really is “when” and not “if.” He doesn’t have the running athleticism of Daunte Culpepper, Jackson or Ponder, but he is better at nearly everything else in the passing game than any of them were at most points in their careers, and for sure in their rookie seasons.

What do I like about Bridgewater? He stands tall in the pocket, hits his back foot quickly, releases the ball with a lightning-quick release and seems to take charge nicely without a hint of cockiness. He reads defenses adeptly and has been called out by coaches on numerous occasions for making the right call when multiple options are presented to him. Late last week, the accuracy waned and the decision-making started to wobble at times when presented new looks. But the coaching staff is doing everything right with him, sprinkling in some first-team reps without the pressure of having to start right away. That doesn’t mean he won’t, but he doesn’t have to with Matt Cassel in front of him.

In short, good things are ahead. The question is how far into the future? September of this year or September of next year? The answer probably is closer to the front end than back end.

WONDER 2: How long will the comfort level take?

There really isn’t any question that the schemes being implemented are more interesting and little doubt that they will be better in the long term. But there are still plenty of moments of uncertainty in training camp.

On offense, it seems there is at least one play a day when they break the huddle, come to the line and something isn’t right. Bridgewater and Cassel have both had to correct receivers on their splits or which side of the formation they should be on, but the good news is those occasions are being more spread out and usually not with the starting receivers anymore.

On defense, there are also occasions when errors in technique or alignment happen. But make no mistake, this is a much more complex scheme and when it all comes together it should be both exciting and aggressive. The hope is that it can become a formidable foundation of the franchise like the defenses of the late 1980s.

WONDER 3: How good can Barr be?

The short answer is Barr looks to have all the talent worthy of his No. 9 overall selection. Better yet, this coaching staff knew exactly what they were looking for in that selection and appears to have every intention of playing to his strengths.

Barr is an extremely unique combination of size and speed at the position. Can he conquer the coverage aspect of the position? Honestly, that’s open to debate yet. But we know he has intriguing pass-rush skills and flexibility that can make a defensive mind like Mike Zimmer giddy about disguising the defense. He will be a starter at the outset and a difference-maker by the end of the season.

WONDER 4: Will the secondary hold up?

This much is apparent: The depth is better, but do they have two legitimate starting cornerbacks? At this point, that’s an unknown, but it’s clear the coaching combination of Zimmer, coordinator George Edwards and position coach Jerry Gray have been working consistently on technique and recognition with leading candidates Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson.

Behind that trio are some legitimate depth options in Derek Cox, who had interceptions in consecutive practices, Marcus Sherels and Jabari Price, who appears to be a real seventh-round steal early in camp.

There are also questions at the safety position. Robert Blanton had the early lead to be working next to Harrison Smith, but Blanton suffered a hamstring injury Monday night that kept him out the rest of the week and might keep him out this week, too, as they prepare for their first preseason game. So will it be Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Kurt Coleman or even Antone Exum early in the preseason? It’s time for someone else to step up, but it appears wide open now.

WONDER 5: How much does Peterson have left?

In an interview after minicamp, Adrian Peterson acknowledged his abdominal injury last year was eye-opening for him, but, despite surgeries each of the last three offseasons, Peterson believes he can continue to be as productive as he has been into his late 30s as he pursues a Super Bowl title and the all-time rushing title.

In order to do that, the coaching has been diligent in finding ways to take stress off of him, but they still maintain they want to be a power running team. Fullback Jerome Felton is all for that, saying that is his blocking strength but insisting he can also split out wide and catch passes. Getting Peterson back to a 1,500-yard rusher and more involved in the passing game could be the key to keeping the offense diverse and opponents’ defenses on their heels. When that happens, it’s a win for the Vikings.

WONDER 6: Which youngsters will emerge to stardom?

There are plenty to choose from. On offense, Cordarrelle Patterson is the obvious one. He was electrifying on kick returns and is anxious to translate that more consistently on offense. If defenses focus too much on him, Kyle Rudolph finally should have his breakout year, and Jerome Simpson could threaten with repeated deep opportunities. There is a lot to be excited about on offense because of the diversity, and that’s a departure from the run-first, run-often mentality of the last seven years of Peterson’s career.

On defense, Everson Griffen gets his chance to excel as a big-money starter, but Linval Joseph could be the key cog in the defensive line. He’s impressed teammates with his strength and ability to anchor down. At the second level, Barr has big potential in Zimmer’s system. And Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes should only continue to get better in the secondary.

WONDER 7: Can they weather the early schedule?

One of the big topics has been how the Vikings will handle playing outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium in December, but they and their opponents have the same weather conditions every game. The bigger question is how they handle the early part of their schedule, when they face many of the best teams the NFL has to offer and the Vikings are still in the transition stage of the new schemes. Things get real in a hurry.

In the first five games of the season, they face some of the best in the AFC and NFC over the last three years. It starts with an emerging St. Louis team that many think could be the next power team out of the NFC West, then moving onto perennial playoff teams in New England, New Orleans, Atlanta and Green Bay.

If the Vikings can survive those with anything close to .500 or better, big things could be ahead.

With so questions, this is a month of question marks that could lead into something special over the coming years.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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